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KLF publisher seeking to block documentary on copyright grounds

By | Published on Wednesday 20 October 2021


The KLF’s music publisher is seeking to block the screening of a documentary about the duo on the basis that tracks which feature in the film have not been licensed. Which is very possibly a legitimate reason for stopping the distribution of ‘Who Killed The KLF?’, though it’s also slightly ironic given the uncleared samples that famously appeared in The KLF’s early releases.

According to The Guardian, the film, by director Chris Atkins, is not endorsed by KLF members Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, despite it basically being a tribute to their music, art and infamous accompanying antics.

Indeed, not only is the documentary not endorsed, Drummond and Cauty seem very much against it. Or at least Cauty does. Discussing the then planned film in a 2016 interview, he said: “We don’t want to do it – it’s like an archaeological dig through the past. We’re doing other things that we think are much more interesting”.

That might be why the duo’s publisher, Warner Chappell, tried – albeit unsuccessfully – to block a recent screening of the documentary at a film festival in Texas. The film includes snippets of KLF tracks like ‘3am Eternal’ and ‘What Time Is Love?’ and those snippets have not been licensed. However, Atkins argues that no licence is required because the use of the music in his documentary is covered by the critical analysis exception in copyright law.

Found in many copyright systems, that exception says that an extract of a copyright protected work can be used without licence if it forms part of a critical analysis. So, after the snippet is played, the work is then critiqued. Atkins argues that that happens in his film, because it features archive audio recordings of Drummond and Cauty themselves critiquing their own work.

But Warner Chappell does not agree. A spokesperson told The Guardian: “We always champion the value of our songwriters’ music. Feature-length documentaries made for profit which make extensive use of an artist’s music are not covered by the fair dealing exception to copyright law, which is why we took action in this case”.

The moves by Warner Chappell to block ‘Who Killed The KLF?’ on copyright grounds sees the duo very much on the other side of the copyright fence from where they started in the 1980s.

Uncleared samples in their early tracks created some famous and amusing run-ins with the music industry, most notably an unsuccessful trip to Sweden during which the duo hoped they could personally settle a dispute with Abba over their unlicensed use of ‘Dancing Queen’ on a track on their debut album. With no deal done with Abba, Drummond and Cauty threw some of their copyright infringing albums into the North Sea, and burned a load more in a field in Gothenburg.